[Marxism] Mexico: Reply to Tony (II)
juliohuato at hotmail.com
Wed May 12 15:54:11 MDT 2004
To begin with, what do the working people in Mexico really want?
The answer is: decent jobs. First and foremost, decent jobs, with a decent
pay. Whether those jobs are provided by Mexicans or foreigners at home, or
by anyone abroad is secondary. There's an old Russian novel, by Tolstoy or
Gogol or Turgeneiv -- can't remember now. One of the characters describes
how regular people behave. He says something like this: "We humans are like
ants, if there's a stone on our way, we just get around it and keep going."
That is right: Mexico's working people want jobs and they'll even migrate to
strange lands at great danger if necessary to get jobs. They answer the
question with their feet.
I understand that, in an ideal world, Mexicans should be generating those
jobs domestically. The left should be trying to take over the government,
somehow, anyhow, and do something to create those jobs. That would save
migrant workers much suffering. But that's an ideal world. In this world,
now and for the time being, workers will not wait for domestic jobs to meet
their needs, particularly when there's a clear gap in real wages between the
two countries. The same Mexican worker makes significantly more money in
the U.S. than in Mexico, and with their decision to migrate, these workers
are saying that the benefits compensate them for the costs. I can second
guess them, but who cares?
If we say that trade with the U.S. (and this includes the trade of financial
assets) is bad, then the practical conclusion is to sabotage it, to
dismantle it, to oppose it. If anyone on this list thinks this is the way
to go in Mexico, go ahead -- try your luck. It doesn't matter whether we
like it or not, the primary aim of concrete Mexican workers is jobs. This
imposes restrictions on strategy, if we really want to help class formation.
The strategy cannot be based on the opposition to trade and economic
integration with the U.S. (and this includes NAFTA, in principle, not
necessarily in the details).
Someone will say, isn't Venezuela and Brazil opposing the FTAA? I have read
very carefully the document prepared by Venezuela stating their position on
the FTAA, and they are not opposed in principle to trade, including trade
with the U.S. They are opposed to unfair trade practices, to the asymmetric
conditions in trade that allow the U.S. to impose its interests in Latin
America. And that's exactly my point. We may and should oppose abuse in
trade. We may and should oppose abuse in trade agreements.
Cuba is officially opposed to the FTAA, from which the U.S. has excluded it.
But is Cuba opposed to trade with the U.S. as a matter of principle?
Everyone does what she can do.
How should Mexicans oppose abuse in trade? The answer depends on the
concrete state of the workers' movement in Mexico. The Mexican left should
join in voicing opposition to abuse in the FTAA or otherwise. But Mexico's
left cannot make this the axis of its strategy. Everyone does what she can
do. Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba respond to abuse in trade according to the
concrete stage in their process of class and national formation. Deciding
the way in which Mexico should oppose trade abuses is something that hinges
on understanding the aims concrete workers are pursuing.
Let me address an implicit assumption of those who think Mexico should
reject all economic ties with the U.S. The assumption is that the U.S. is a
monolith not susceptible to change. So by trading more with the U.S., by a
more intense traffic of things, people, and ideas, Mexico as a nation will
be destroyed. The U.S. is viewed as a deeply fragmented society with no
redeemable qualities. The U.S. people is viewed as atomized by consumerism,
racial segregation, and other social pathology including cannon fodder in
the imperial wars. This characterization has an undeniable germ of truth,
but that is not the whole truth. The trees are not the forest. The U.S.
society is also a process of natural history, a living dynamic organism,
where "concrete people are pursuing their own aims." This list shows it.
So, if Mexico continues to increase its trade and integration with the U.S.,
is it doomed to disappear as a nation, to be swallowed by a decomposing U.S.
society? I doubt that. In any case, we shouldn't care whether there are
abstract alternatives to the integration with the U.S. What we should care
about is where Mexican workers are now, where they want to go, and how we
can be of help to assist their national and class formation. By their
choices, they are moving towards more trade, more integration with the U.S.
And that process won't leave anybody intact. It'll change Mexico and it'll
change the U.S.
You mention that some Mexicans compare favorably the judicial institutions
in the U.S. to those in Mexico. They wish they had a better police, better
judges, etc. Those Mexicans are selling their soul and would rather be U.S.
citizens, you imply. But if you observe carefully they -- at once -- want
to remain Mexicans. Remember, "people pursuing their own aims." They want
public institutions that are accountable to them, fairness in the
administration of justice, full rights.
I have heard some comparisons myself made by migrant workers. For example,
"judiciales" versus the Migra. The "judiciales" were nasty, mistreated
them, robbed them, etc. The Migra treated them well when they captured
them, talked to them respectfully "in Spanish," took their fingerprints,
gave them food and water, and deported them. And they just turned around
and crossed the border again. They didn't feel mistreated or harassed. It
was a matter of fact encounter with the Migra. (I've heard the horror
stories as well, including recent ones.)
I tell them they were lucky. I tell them the media documents frequent
abuses by the Migra. I tell them victims tend to rationalize the behavior
of those who exercise power over them. I tell them they don't deserve to be
fingerprinted like criminals and put in cages like cattle, they are workers,
deportation is fundamental mistreatment. I tell them white Europeans didn't
need visas to enter the continent when they first came. I tell them very
rich Mexicans now don't have a problem to enter the U.S. White Europeans
just invaded, push around the natives, took their land, try to exterminate
them, confined them to reservations. The natives who populated these lands
share blood and origin with their ancestors and the survivors are their
brothers. They hear me and pretty much keep thinking what they think. I
cannot blame them for making the comparisons they can make, based on their
own experience. Everybody does that. In Mexico, many of them are victims
of racism on top of their economic oppression.
I hear it all the time myself, Indians from Puebla, Morelos, and Guerrero
(where most Mexicans in NYC are from) tell me repeatedly that they feel more
respected and better treated in New York City, people look at them with more
respect. Yes, the matter-of-fact, grumpy, tunnel-vision-behaved New Yorkers
treat them with respect. Not that they don't experience racism coming from
white Americans. Mostly, they feel indifference. There have been killings
and harassment of Mexican workers by white folks in some areas in Long
Island, Queens, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Punks or white families
intimidated by their presence while they wait for a construction pick up
truck to offer them a day job, or while they play soccer in the park.
Still, they have a perspective on these issues. Unlike those mestizos and
whites in Mexico City, the "policías," the "licenciados," the "burguesita"
(the insolent rich young woman), the store owner, etc., they say to feel
more dignified in New York. Many talk about their jobs and how they make
more money than many mestizos or whites back in Mexico. And how good that
feels when they return. Some of their employers are nice to them, they say.
I tell them they better be -- they make money out of them. They think
real racism is what happens to African-Americans, and they read about it all
the time -- Rodney King, Abner Louima, etc. Sometimes, they feel bullied by
other Latinos, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, they are bigger, stronger.
They also feel threatened by, exposed to the resentment of
African-Americans. I told them all of them are victims too, divide and
conquer is the strategy of the big owners of the country. I explain the
history of slave trade, the history of the Caribbean; to the extent I know
anything about it. They hear me and they filter everything through their
Just over the weekend, we were celebrating Mother's Day with migrant workers
from the Mixteca Baja of Puebla. I met a mature, strong man, 65 at least,
all dressed up. He seems to be struggling with artritis in the knees. He's
from Tetela del Volcán, Puebla; a "bracero" from the original program back
in the late 1950s. I hadn't met many of these. He did cotton, strawberry,
broccoli -- you name it, in California, Texas, North Carolina. Thick hands.
He showed me how skillful he was with a hooked knife wrapped around his
middle finger picking fruit. He reads El Diario every day, and he asked me
to help him find a law firm in Chicago handling a class-action suit to
recover money the farms that employed them put in some retirement fund for
the "braceros," money that evaporated in the interstices of Mexico's
bureaucracy. He read it in El Diario. I told him to find IDs, documents,
something to show that he was in that program. He doesn't seem to have any.
It's his money, but it's going to be tough for him to claim any.
He's working now as a part-time butcher for a Mexican restaurant and he told
me he just learned how to cut meat the "modern" way, and showed me. A 65
years old fellow learned a complex new skill, and he feel so damn proud. He
still thinks of going back to his town, start a butchery store, and die
there. We talked about the prison photos. Then he asked me about Chávez in
Venezuela, because he heard me before telling others that the media's
portrait of him is tendentious. He listened intently; he nodded when I made
a remark about Chávez's obvious African ancestry, in comparison with the
whiteness of the Venezuelan rich elites, and how that plays out. Class,
race, and ethnicity are all tangled together, and I'm not sure I did a good
job trying to stress the distinctions. He has a cell phone. But he's a
Mexican. No doubt.
They are all Mexicans. Mexico is a weird and inconsistent melting pot.
Racism is palpable. Although I believe the Zapatista rebellion helped for
Indians to feel more secure and for the mestizos and whites to treat them
with some respect, but I can't prove it. (People who think that Mexicans
are submissive don't quite grasp the impact of the Spanish conquest and
colonization. They needed to evolve adaptations to cope, like the ants in
the Russian novel, so that they could get around and keep pursuing their own
aims. They are not submissive, they are astute.)
The history books every kid is supposed to read in Mexico tells the story of
the Aztec resistance to the conquerors, that they Indians were the troops in
the criollo-and-mestizo led war of Independence against Spain, that they
were the troops of Juárez (an Indian from Oaxaca, of advanced liberal ideas
whom even Marx the Euro-centric respected) that resisted the U.S. invasion
and forced the occupiers to leave, that they were the troops that won the
Battle of Puebla against the French Army, a white European army, in that
glorious "5 de Mayo" of 1862. They are Mexicans, damn it! They just want a
better life and want those smug fucking Mexican mestizos and whites back in
Mexico to treat them with respect, like fellow human beings. It's complex
shit -- to use Melvin's phrase.
They have not renounced their nationality. Even if, when the opportunity
appears, they request the U.S. citizenship -- the individual way to
acquiring some rights in this country. (They better do and vote.) They
just want a better nation. Or two nations. They want the best of both
worlds, the best of Mexico and the best of the U.S. I like that idea
myself. (Communism will be a pretty synchretic human synthesis anyways.)
They are just "people pursuing their own aims," making history the best way
they can. I will never see this as reactionary. Never. In my eyes, theirs
is as radical a need as it gets. They want it met, they are pursuing it,
moving ahead, and that is progress in my book.
I'm an optimist, and I believe in the creative, liberating potential of this
huge human reservoir of talent and strength. It is an ocean. Either
Marxists, socialists, communists, radical, leftists, progressives,
whatever... will help them move ahead, to weather obstacles, etc., and
realize their legitimate, radical needs, or they'll be irrelevant. These
people, like the ants in the Russian novel, will keep walking ahead, getting
around the stones. It'd be nice if we help them find the most economical
What demands of the left in Mexico concord with the aims of concrete
workers? A regional integration that benefits concretely the workers of
Mexico (and the U.S.). A regional integration accountable to the workers, a
truly democratic integration. The straight path to achieve that is to
pursue political power both in Mexico and in the U.S. And that's a long
shot that starts now.
For the time being, in Mexico, the left cannot oppose the inflow of U.S. or
foreign investment, not because there are no negatives, but because it means
jobs. If we try to organize workers around the demands of no more U.S.
investment, no more trade, etc., then we are not serious. We want the jobs,
and we want to uphold the rights of workers to unionize, strike, etc. as
provided in the labor law. We want to protect and expand workers' rights.
We insist on having private companies, maquiladoras, etc. contribute as much
as possible to public funds aimed to improve housing, health care,
education, public services, etc. This is the foundation of the strategy to
organize these workers. If the left thinks this is too little to ask for,
tough luck. The key is how to best serve the workers pursue their
legitimate aims by emphasizing their common interests with workers, across
borders and across all other differences.
Other issues require a different understanding. The defense of women rights
in Mexico is critical. Unlike other areas of industry where they are a
minority of the labor force, in the maquiladora sector women are half the
workers. Women are victimized in every which way and that has to stop (El
Universal today: 2 more corpses of women found recently in Juárez). We are
also for equal rights, against the persecution, repression, and deportation
of foreign (mostly Central American, but also Caribbean, Asian, Eastern
European, etc.) migrant workers in Mexico. We reject their mistreatment by
Mexican employers, the police, etc. We reject the discrimination and
harassment of Indian migrants from the southern states and from Central and
South America in the border states by employers and the police. We want all
"foreign" workers to have full rights in Mexico. Mexicans have no face to
demand full rights for their workers in the U.S. if they don't start by
granting full rights to "foreign" workers in Mexico.
That said, we need to understand that it's not only lack of accountability
in the justice system, bureaucratic meanness, or police corruption that
underlies this. To say the least, these abuses against the weakest are
facilitated by the underlying competition and conflict between different
sectors of the working class in the border states. Like everywhere else,
there are divisions among the working people due to differences of gender,
race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. If you ask me for a reactionary aspect
of the "norteño" character, there you have it. Widespread racism against
Indians, "southerners," and Central Americans. In turn, both "norteños" and
"sureños," and most people I know in Mexico, are homophobic. We are all
mixes of shit and glory. If one looks carefully, the glory is there, signs
of movement, of people struggling and uniting. I have no illusions about
how promptly problems of this kind will be solved. Conflicts within the
working class are to be handled differently. They entail a long process of
education in the struggle. It begins not by a "norteño" worker doing yoga
and deciding to love all "sureños," but by "norteño" and "sureño" workers
needing tocooperate in the pursuit of their aims. It's going to take a long
time, but the rough edges will be smoothed out. "Workers of the world,
unite!" is not to say "piece of cake."
Other issues are not in the immediate sphere of action of Mexicans in
Mexico. The struggle for full rights in the U.S. to migrant workers
(Mexicans and others), against their persecution, discriminatory treatment,
mistreatment, and deportation. These workers need to resist and wage the
class struggle mainly by eliciting the solidarity of broader sectors of the
working class and even beyond in this country. What goes on in this side
can be dealt more effectively on this side. The militarization of the
border from the U.S. side is also a case in point. Etc.
We may be lost. But Mexico is not lost. Mexico's workers are not lost.
They are just pursuing their own aims. Care to help?
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